Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Chemical Athens

This is a natural history blog; I will not dwell on politics or economics. But the name of the journal justifies reference to this city. My only evidence is a friend's picture, it says a lot. On Sunday 12/2/2012 Athens burned again. A peaceful demonstration confronted Parliament; as has happened here before, there was no control or real interest in keeping peace. Riot police filled the air with tear gas. Tons of stenching chemicals. Everything stunk. Who would perpetrate such ridiculous chaos?  The result: criminal damage and destruction of some of the older 19th Century neo-classical buildings. I heard that 45 buildings were set on fire, 9 of them historic buildings. Over 170 businesses were damaged during the night. Was guarding the peace effective here? Most will remember the tear gas, the chemicals. 

Photo courtesy of Aris Vidalis who was out there, seeing the city burn; Sunday February 12 2012.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Kuwait Birding & "Fishing": Nature and culture experiences

 From January 23rd to 28th 2012 we spent some time exploring Kuwait. I'm uploading some of the images just to whet any ones appetite for this unique Arabian state. Its well worth a visit.

Our travelling team Graham, SZ, Vasso, Nancy, Aris and Mike. At an oasis in the desert near the border.
In the legendary Mesopotamian Delta: The bridge-to-nowhere at Bubiyan Island. Spanning across one of the old river delta channels -or tidal inlets - called Khors.

Unique saltmarsh and mudflat features on Bubiyan. Vast wetland areas -many waders, terns, gulls, herons and a few spoonbills seen.
Bubiyan flats. Note the hundreds of crab-holes. The river-like inlets in the background are tidal, waters are a milk-chocolate brown colour...sediments all the way from the Iraqi Mesopotamian marshes...
Nithyanandan Manickam, SZ and Mike Pope doing some sea watching;  the numbers of birds between Fintas and Bubiyan were rather low, a few Great Black-headed Gulls, small flocks of Black-headed gulls, a possible Armenian Gull, a Swift tern, and dozens of  Great Cormorants.

Flat sunset. Military outpost out at Sulabiya Khor. No-one around, total silience.  Khors by the way are tidal inlets but this one seems like a flowing distributary channel of a great river - it felt a little like being in a great river....
Camels in the city of Jahra. Its amazing such "traditional" scenes exist next to Kuwait City. This could be any where in the "East".
Jahra Farm. The cistern. The traditional palm grove and vegetable gardens - full of bird song: White-throughted Kingfishers, Common Mynahs, singing White-cheeked Bulbuls...

Underwater shot of a Green Toad in one of the clean well-water fed cisterns at Jahra Farms. They were singing and mating in mid January.
Aquatic snails found inside the cistern - they are abundant there. Jahra Farms.

Sabah Al-Ahmad Natural Reserve (AKA SAANR for local birders). Need permission to enter and only while accompanied by guide. No hunting inside.

One of the canyon-like gullies on the escarpment inside SAANR. Here we saw our first Mourning Wheatears and Asian Desert Warblers.

The escarpment outcrops at SAANR. We saw an Arabian Red Fox. The most dramatically beautiful desert landscapes in Kuwait.

Escarpment in SAANR. Total wilderness, just one hour's drive west of Kuwait City. May it remain unknown and totally protected.
A small shrub, I think it was some kind of Tamarisk in flower, in the wetlands at Jahra Pool Reserve.
A new artificial lake at SAANR. The water is treated water from a de-salination process and it fills in an endorheic desert basin. Incongruous, but attractive to birds.

Spring flowers in winter. Should have more, but it hasn't rained enough this year. This spot is a low-lying depression like an endorheic basin inside the desert at SAANR. Lots of larks, pipits, wagtails etc. I found a bustard feather here.
An artificial pond known as Tulha in SAANR. Three fish species have been introduced (Mugilids, Cyprinodonts, and a big drum-like fish). We saw a beautiful E. Imperial Eagle and Robins were ticking away.
As we were walking by the pond this huge fish (looks like a drum) flew out of the water and on to shore. I quickly tried to put it back - and Aris was swift enough to take this picture. The water that fills the pond a Tulha we later found out is brackish, it is pumped up from an aquifer thats about 60 meters deep.  If anyone can identify the fish for us - i'd appreciate it.

Underwater shot of the Cyprinodonts (Toothcarps). Abundant in the pond at Tulha, SAANR.

Hummock dunes in a protected (fence-in) area of desert way to the west of the Kuwait, near an oasis. At the oasis we spotted a Dead Sea Sparrow (a vagrant or really rare under-recorded sp.).

Low hummock dunes. Here we found two Short-eared Owls, Desert Wheatears, Maurian Shrikes, Daurian Shrikes. About 19 bird spp. in total spotted in adjacent oasis.
Wildlife is mistreated in a horrible way in Kuwait  - the same as it used to be just two decades ago in Greece. This is an endangered Eurasian Black Vulture (a Juvenile bird - genuinely wild and agitated) in a private animal collection owned by a Sheik at the oasis farm. Next this pen were a group of about six Golden Jackals.
This is actually a road. Its not off-road and it does go somewhere nice (to an oasis farm). Now if you don't have a GPS or a local friend you may get lost. What a feeling...
At the old Souq in Kuwait City the army band is waiting for instruction - election day is near. 

Something is being celebrated in the square and the woman have also followed the armed men. A line of Emirs is wall-painted in the background. We wondered for two hours in the Souq and I noticed not a single tourist. All locals were extremely friendly and kind to us.
There's also a small fish market at the Souq. These are probably White-cheeked Sharks I suppose. Lots of fish here- large Spanish Mackerel, Barracuda, Milkfish and more!
In winter, Kuwaitis go camping! There are probably thousands of tents -acting like holiday homes in specific plots used by families and shared with friends.
Vasso and Nancy at the Beduin-like set up that Ali and his friend have created. Very traditional experience!
I think Kuwait's love the sea as much as the desert. This is the city's skyline from Gulf Road at Salmiya. Wonderful place to enjoy the sunset.